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The campaign was offering a chance to be picked for a trip to the Democratic National Convention for a contribution of at least $5. However, as a gambling analyst for Colorado-based Focus on the Family told WND, that not only probably violated state laws banning gambling, it also probably violated federal bans.
Now the campaign has added a statement to the fundraising website that says, “If you do not wish to make a donation but would like to participate in this program, you can still be selected to join Barack at the Democratic National Convention in Denver by clicking here.”
According to regulators, that takes the procedure out of the realm of gambling, because a “donation” no longer is required.
The Obama campaign has declined to respond to WND telephone messages requesting comment on the issue. A WND e-mail to a contact address provided by the campaign on the web also did not generate a response.
However, Nick Kimball, a spokesman for the Obama campaign in Minnesota, told the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, “We are happy to have resolved this issue working closely with state officials. We look forward to continuing a substantive conversation with Minnesotans about Senator Obama’s ideas.”
Doug Forsman, a special agent with Minnesota’s Department of Public Safety, had confirmed the illegality of the promotion.
He gave the campaign two options, the newspaper said, to void the contest where such bans exist or to change the rules to allow people to participate without gambling any of their money.
Forsman confirmed Kendall Burman, staff counsel at Obama’s Chicago headquarters, informed him the “donation,” which had been a requirement earlier, would be made optional.
The Star-Tribune said the Minnesota Gambling Board received a tip Monday saying it might represent an illegal raffle and turned the matter over to the Public Safety Department.
Officials with the state secretary of state’s office confirmed to the Rocky Mountain News Democrats would need a license to continue the original game of chance in Colorado.
Chad Hills, the Focus on the Family analyst for gambling research and policy, had told WND the campaign promotion included all three ordinary elements of gambling.
“I think not only does it cross the line on a state level, but on a federal level it also crosses the line,” he said.
For one thing, Internet gambling is banned in all 50 states, as are commercial gambling operations unless, like a state lottery, they are specifically authorized.
Obama’s fundraiser, distributed via Internet, said, “If you make a donation of $5 or more between now and midnight on July 31st, you could be one of 10 supporters chosen to fly to Denver and spend two days and nights at the convention, meet Barack backstage, and watch his acceptance speech in person. Each of the ten supporters who are selected will be able to bring one guest to join them.”
The office of Colorado Attorney General John Suthers declined to comment on the specific situation. But he provided to WND a statement that said, “For ‘gambling’ to occur, three elements must be present: consideration, chance, and reward. These elements are sometimes expressed as ‘payment, luck, and prize.'”
Hills said, “I think they’ve stepped on the darker side of the gray line, if you want to call it a gray line.”
He clarified he was specifically expressing his views on the issue of gambling, not on any particular political candidate.
Obama’s e-mail pitch said:
At the Democratic National Convention next month, we’re going to kick off the general election with an event that opens up the political process the same way we’ve opened it up throughout this campaign.
Barack has made it clear that this is your convention, not his.
On Thursday, August 28th, he’s scheduled to formally accept the Democratic nomination in a speech at the convention hall in front of the assembled delegates.
Instead, Barack will leave the convention hall and join more than 75,000 people for a huge, free, open-air event where he will deliver his acceptance speech to the American people.
It’s going to be an amazing event, and Barack would like you to join him. Free tickets will become available as the date approaches, but we’ve reserved a special place for a few of the people who brought us this far and who continue to drive this campaign.
If you make a donation of $5 or more between now and midnight on July 31st, you could be one of 10 supporters chosen to fly to Denver and spend two days and nights at the convention, meet Barack backstage, and watch his acceptance speech in person. Each of the ten supporters who are selected will be able to bring one guest to join them.
Make a donation now and you could have a front row seat to history:
We’ll follow up with more details on this and other convention activities as we get closer, but please take a moment and pass this note to someone you know who might like to be there.
It will be an event you’ll never forget.
Signed by campaign manager David Plouffe, it included an Internet link to a donate.BarackObama.com website to pay the money and enter the competition for the trips.
The campaign website now includes basically the same message but includes the line of fine print at the bottom of the page that authorities said was needed to make it a legal promotion, instead of an illegal gambling operation.
On the Rocky Mountain News’ forums page, one reader commented, “Democrats were violating the law? How is it news that Democrats are criminals?
Another, however, cited the Iraq war, wiretapping and “political prosecution” disputes, saying “nahhh those aren’t news worthy as they were committed by republicans in this administration. actual premeditated crimes by republicans= nada… simple mistake by Democrats= headlines.”
On the Minneapolis newspaper’s comment page, one reader said, “I read the donation invitation and it clearly reads like a raffle to the point of pressing the DONATE button. There’s no such thing as breaking the law a little bit. Not a good start. This should have been vetted for applicability in all states prior to placing it on the national web site. Is this an example of inexperience? I hope not … it’s awfully early.”
Another added, “In Wisconsin 3 elements constitute illegal lottery, prize, chance and consideration. This offer has them all. How can a man be our president when he cannot understand simple rules of fundraising? … The facts are the facts.”